“Peace Corps Experience”

You cannot even look into joining the Peace Corps with out running into former Volunteers or their testimonials. They all agree on one thing – their “Peace Corps Experience” irreversibly changed them. It is unavoidable: if you spend two years immersed in another culture it will change the way you view the world. You will encounter situations unlike anything you have encountered before, your preconceived notions will be challenged, and you will gain a new lens of perception.

I am certainly a bit different than I was on entering the Peace Corps one year ago (for one thing, I am now able to be in the same room as a large spider without freaking out), but I have also found that my experiences before the Peace Corps have been crucial to helping me navigate my “Peace Corps Experience”. Even before arriving in the Philippines, I knew that roosters crow at all hours (and how to sleep through their crows), I knew how to flush a toilet with only water, I knew how to get by without a grocery store down the block, and my first aid, camping, and survival skills were at least slightly above average. Throughout training, I would often find myself wondering at how my fellow Trainees could reach their twenties or thirties without knowing learning how to tie a simple knot, spending time near a chicken coop, or flushing a toilet by pouring water into the bowl. Ultimately I realized that everyone acquires different skill sets in their life and, while I had built a set of skills that was practically useful to me in the Philippines, other Trainees had more experience counseling, case managing, and with other professional skills; we were all prepared for service in our own way. That said, I have found that the skills I learned growing up on a small family farm in Vermont incredibly helpful. Earlier this week, I had an afternoon that was one of those “prior experience needed” moments.

That morning, I had decided to work from home as I had a number of sessions to plan for the coming weeks and, due to a small-scale robbery at my office, the session materials now stay in my room. I have also found that it is much easier to create a poster in the space of your own home than it is in an small office with nine other people. I worked on a couple of sessions throughout the day, ultimately making three medium size posters and some other supplies for the sessions. As the day rolled on and evening approached, my family came home from their busy days.

Maybe an hour after Elsie (the student who lives with us) came home, the puppies began their assault of the house. They are not supposed to enter the house and, if they make it through the door, they are not allowed to stay for very long, as neither of them is potty trained. However, the puppies have realized that the house a source of everything they want in life (shelter, love, and (most importantly) FOOD), so their attempts to gain access are increasing in frequency and desperation. When they whine outside the back door every afternoon, some part of me believes they are proclaiming the injustice of my pup, Cooper’s free access to food, unending pets, and a soft dry bed, but then the other part of me remembers that they are two-month-old puppies, and perhaps I am personifying them a bit too much.

Elsie and I went outside, each of us scooped up a puppy, and we carried them through the back yard to their mother.

The pig pens are quite close to where the puppies and their mother stay so, when we dropped off the puppies, Elsie realized that one of the pigs had escaped its pen and was roaming around some of the other unoccupied pens. We dashed to the pen, Cooper on our heals, and Elsie produced a rope from somewhere. We tried to wrangle the pig while it was still inside the pig house but the close quarters, our apprehension to hurt the the pig, and the addition of Cooper barking and nipping at the pig’s heals thwarted us. The pig and Cooper ran out and ended up behind the pig shed in the middle of the wet area where the leavings are dumped when the pig pens are cleaned. I asked Elsie for the rope and followed the animals into the muddy mess. As I tried to get close enough to the pig to tie the rope around its neck and keep Cooper from working the pig into a frenzy, one of my tsinelas (flip flops) broke and fell off. I shoved the thong part back through the sole and continued my attempts to get near the pig. After a few minutes of me fumbling around in the mud with a pig, a dog, and a shoe that kept falling apart, Elsie joined the fray. She managed to grab the pig by the ear and hold on long enough for me to tie a quick knot around it’s neck. I handed the rope over to her and she led the pig back to its pen while I fished my tsinela out of the mud and muck. As Elsie lifted the pig back over the wall into its pen, she shouted to my Ate, telling her that the pig had escaped, so my Ate quickly joined us out in the pig house. I cleaned off my feet, legs, and hands at an outside faucet while my Ate and Elsie reinforced the pen so that, hopefully, the pig would not escape again. Little did I know, my skills test was only half way through.

When my feet were clean and the pen was secure, my Ate asked if I would come with her to find the family goat. I almost stopped to change my tsinelas, but assumed that the pregnant goat had not wandered too far, so decided I could get by with the ones I was already wearing. I would soon regret this decision. I walked with my Ate down the street, looking on either side of the road as we went. Elsie and Cooper walked a bit slower behind us. We stopped to ask a few people if they had seen our goat, but to no avail, and soon we reached the end of the block without a sign. Some neighborhood kids were playing in the street, close to where our road met the highway, and they told us they had seen our goat headed the other way, back towards our gate earlier in the day. A man across the highway overheard our discussion and contradicted their testimony, saying that he had seen a brown and black goat walking towards the river along the side of the highway about a hour ago.

We turned the corner and followed the highway to the bridge over the river. Elsie and Cooper had caught up to us at this point, and so we investigated the banks of the river together. As we looked, my Ate told me that my Kuya had found our goat swimming in the river once. I could imagine her climbing down the stone steps cut into the steep bank to get a drink, enjoying the shade and the cool water, but I couldn’t picture our very pregnant goat taking a dip in the dimming twilight we were currently experiencing… She was no where to be found.

We gave up searching by the river, my Ate and Elsie deciding that maybe the kids were right and the goat was hanging out in a back yard closer to home. We turned around and walked back up the highway towards our street. As we walked past a seemingly empty house I pointed towards their sloping back yard and said, “Ate, siguro didto?” (Ate, maybe there?). There were a number of trees and the yard was quiet and near the river. It seemed to me an nice place to go to in you wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the highway. My Ate turned off the road, walking carefully through the un-mowed-grass (I have yet to see the dreaded philippine cobra, but I am constantly assured that they are everywhere). She walked down the sloping hill next to the house and, as she came even with the far wall, proclaimed loudly that our goat was indeed there. Elsie, Cooper and I quickly followed her and saw our goat standing near a pen with a number of other goats inside of it. My Ate is sure that one of these goats must be the unknown father.

Catching a goat that does not want to be caught is not easy. Perhaps if we had walked in to that backyard knowing that goat was there (or with any sort of strategy) we would have been able to catch her on the first try. Unfortunately, we had no plan, no clue that the goat was there, and a young dog eager to practice his herding skills, but with little actual skill. The goat ran almost the instant that she saw us, running up the stairs next to the house while we were still standing at the base of the sloping lawn. We gave chase, my tsinela broke again, falling off halfway through my jog up an out of the back yard. The goat then crossed the highway, leaped the ditch, and began nibbling on some sort of flowered bush through a gap in the fence. I turned around to pick up the flip-flop, shoved the thong back through the sole again (an act that I would repeat at least five times in the next ten minutes), and followed my Ate and Elsie back up the side of the highway. I asked Elsie for the rope (which now had a very nice slip knot tied in it), waited for a break in traffic, and crossed the road.

I approached the goat slowly, loosening the knot until the loop could fit easily around her head, speaking in a calm reassuring voice, “Don’t you want to go home? There’s all that nice grass, and a fence to keep you safe from these noisy motorcycles….”

The goat knew that grass, quiet, and relative safety could also be found on the far side of the highway, so she ignored my offer, bolted down her side of the ditch back towards the river, crossed the road in front of a rather fast-moving truck, and disappeared in to the quiet yard again, to be with her supposed baby daddy. I followed at a jog (after the truck had passed) loosing my tsinela at least two more times in the process (once near the ditch by the river before crossing the road and again in the yard). We then repeated almost the exact same moves again, but with a male neighbor, a second rope, and three stops to reattach my Benadict-Arnold-like-shoe. No real lessons were learned in this attempt to capture the goat, other than the fact that the goat did not want to be captured.

At this point I think my Ate and Elsie were tired of watching me run around and loose my shoe every three steps, they said that we should stop and go home. I wanted to try one more time, and asked Elsie to come with me. We entered the yard cautiously and this time I left the traitorous shoe near the road so it did not impede my movements. I told Elsie to take the stairs, while I walked down the lawn, and we proceeded with a two pronged approach. Together we were able to corner the goat against the fence where the other goats were penned in. She tried to make a break for it, attempting to run between me and the fence, but I was able to lasso her, slipping the looped rope around her neck. We led the goat home proudly, my tsinela in the loop around the goat’s neck, preventing the knot from becoming too tight.


Author: determinedwandererblog

Peace Corps Volunteer serving in the Philippines

One thought on ““Peace Corps Experience””

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